I first published this post for Procurious.
Indispensable. I’ve never been a big fan of that word, particularly when talking about the workplace. Indispensable employees can never take uninterrupted time off. Indispensable employees don’t move into new roles. When indispensable employees leave, we try to find their duplicate who can “hit the ground running” so our organization doesn’t miss a beat. And many times, that replacement ends up disappointing us because we see them as the replacement and don’t look at what they are bringing to the table. That’s because we don’t see indispensable as someone important and needed, but as irreplaceable.
But what if we relook at indispensable to not mean irreplaceable and look at every employee as indispensable, as a needed, valuable part of the team from the moment they walk in the door?
If you felt you were a needed, valuable part of the team, would that change how you walk into work each day? Because here’s the reality: everyone is indispensable. Everyone brings something unique to the workplace. Even the low-skill, skilled trade positions that we sometimes think of as easily fillable. If we start looking at each employee as an individual, we can create a more positive workplace, focusing on the strengths of each employee and what they bring, rather than trying to turn each employee into a clone of each other.
No one thinks like you.(Josh Allen Dykstra, post “Everyone is Indispensable”)
No one has your background.
No one has had the experiences you’ve had.
No one has your unique talents.
There’s no one like you.”
I think there are 5 ways to take advantage of this thought process in your day to day work to not just become indispensable, but to enjoy your work more.
- Do one thing better than most. Everyone has something they are good at. Yes, even you. Find that one thing at work that you want to be the go-to person for and share it.
Many times in the workplace, we tend to focus on our weaknesses – where do we need to improve so we can be a well-rounded employee. To be indispensable, you can’t be just like everyone else. You need to stand out from the rest. It can be tempting to want to just blend in with the crowd. But I want to encourage you to stand out and share where you shine.
Become the go-to person on that subject or process. In doing this, you will find the other go-to people to partner with and get the job done.
- Be reliable. Do what you say you will do.
You need to be trust-worthy. Communicate clearly on deadlines and expectations. Follow-through is key. One thing I’ve learned is that you also need to update, even if you feel like there’s nothing to add. We need to get out of “no news is good news.” Get in the habit of providing regular updates to let those on the team know what’s happening – even if it’s just to say, “No updates at this time, but everything is progressing as it should.
When people know they can count on you, they will bring you new, interesting things to do because they know you will get it done.
- Share information. Create information channels.
Many times people will keep knowledge to themselves; but this isn’t about being indispensable, this is about being irreplaceable.
“Indispensable employees are the jacks-of-all-trades, and they do not necessarily want to hold all of that information in. Instead, they desire to share institutional knowledge with coworkers, and gain an understanding of their coworkers and their organization by doing so.” (Lifehack.org)
While this may seem to contradict the first recommendation, it doesn’t. Sharing knowledge creates a stronger team.
You want to be able to take time off, undisturbed, so the truly indispensable employee ensures others have the information they need.
- Know the business. Understand the big picture.
Every industry is different, just as every profession is different. Many times, you can work across many industries if you are good at your profession. But you will find that hiring managers like it if you know the industry. Understanding not just what your organization does, but the purpose of the industry and how your role fits into the industry will help you find your niche to better articulate your indispensability.
Become a student of the industry and find out what sets your organization apart. Share with others.
- Be curious. Find creative solutions.
Most breakthrough discoveries happen because of curiosity. Great things happen when someone asks Why or What if.
When our curiosity is triggered, we think more deeply and rationally about decisions and come up with more-creative solutions. In addition, curiosity allows leaders to gain more respect from their followers and inspires employees to develop more-trusting and more-collaborative relationships with colleagues.Francesca Gino, Harvard Business Review
There you have it, 5 ways to make yourself more indispensable at work. Each person can take a few steps to not only improve your career personally but also within your organization. If we start to think about being indispensable about being needed, wanted in the organization rather than the idea that you can never be replaced, we’ll also have a healthier organization.